Ah, Opening Night at the Siegel Center. The moment in time where Rams travel from near and far arrive at the Stu giddy to see VCU Men’s Basketball take the floor. Expectations and questions surging throughout the arena as the empty rows turned into the masses of Black & Gold fandom.
Melodies blasting from the Peppas at the East End, VCU storming the court from the West. That feeling of excitement has returned once more as SHOWTIME rang throughout the sound waves of the opening buzzer.
#25 VCU started the 2019-20 season versus a stingy Saint Francis (PA) squad with the intent of leaving a sour note at center court. Fortunately, that was not the case with the Rams smothering the Red Flash 72-58 to begin the new year at 1-0. A day after the first 40 minutes of gameplay concluded, there’s work to be done for VCU as their new hunt begins in the right direction.
1-0 > 0-1
Not only was this offensive display by the Black & Gold a welcomed surprise, the way VCU approached their shot selection versus SFU was intriguing. At first, the three-pointer could not get going out the gates so De’Riante Jenkins decided to skip through the lane. VCU followed Jenkins’ lead into the paint with a 42-22 scoring advantage inside.
SFU has a group of players that don’t mind contact inside. And yet the Rams took the game to the Red Flash repeatedly and coming up with points from close range. The three had some first-game jitters on opening night at 23% (3-of-13) but props to VCU doing what they do best instead: RAM IT!
Marcus Santos-Silva UNLEASHED!
My oh my have we waited for this night! Marcus Santos-Silva was VCU’s paint general and the VCU junior racked in an impressive double-double of 21 points and 18 rebounds. Coach Rhoades has a team of Rams where anyone can get hot on any given night. On this night versus Saint Francis (PA), clearly Coach Rhoades was talking about #14.
Santos-Silva did not care if there was one player, a whole starting five, or the entire squad in front of him. When that ball bounced off the rim, he leaped right after it. Repeatedly. While SFU attempted to put Santos-Silva out, that opened up scoring chances for VCU elsewhere which frustrated the Red Flash even more. Ram fans cheered in awe multiple times as Santos-Silva outhustled everyone on the court and his teammates on the bench loved every second.
On the defensive end is where Santos-Silva showcased leadership Tuesday night. There were multiple instances when VCU was playing zone defense and you could hear Santos-Silva yelling instructions near the basket. Step Up! Slide Right! I Got You On The Trap! Pressure!! From KeShawn Curry to Marcus Evans, whoever was near Santos-Silva heard and felt his presence.
HAVOC Makes You Tired
40 minutes of HAVOC in the books and it’s already causing turnovers, headaches, and emergency water breaks. VCU forced 19 turnovers and turned that into 20 of their 72 total points against SFU. Hand swipes were coming along nicely with 12 steals and not a ton of whistles on reaching in from the officials.
At one point this collegiate game looked like one of those pick-up games you would see wandering into Cary Street Gym before heading to the locker rooms. One of those games where one team is skillfully stacked and intertwined on chemistry versus a team of 5 randoms that just met. Not only where the Red Flash out of sync, but stamina also played a part early with Blackmon and Braxton fading fast due to the fast tempo of the game.
As the lead increased, VCU let their foot off the gas defensively. When the contest got past the 20-point lead plateau, you can see that the Rams were letting things loose. Nearly begging for SFU to make a comeback of sorts; A similar issue from last season. And Saint Francis nearly caught the Rams off-guard when VCU went scoreless for over 5 minutes in the 2nd half with their lead diminished to single digits.
Evans and Jenkins know that this is not the VCU standard and are working on that throughout the squad. This wasn’t a bad performance by any stretch but VCU can’t afford to get into the habit easing that lead foot off the gas when miles ahead. Especially with better opponents ahead on the schedule.
First Game Jitters
Turnovers: The true friend and foe of VCU. 18 turnovers for the Black & Gold to start the season and Coach Rhoades stated that ALL of them are on VCU. No matter how great the defense is, at the end of the day it’s VCU’s responsibility to take care of the basketball.
Most of them as Coach Rhoades explained were forced. Roughly 70% of VCU turnovers were a mixture of excitement to get the season started and fighting the defense instead of living to fight another day. Unnecessary lobs for highlight alley-oops, unwarranted passes that couldn’t get through SFU, or just on the wrong side of a 1v3 drive to the hoop. All unwarranted yet normal since it’s the first game of the season. Emotions get the best of you.
Even with a stellar performance in the paint, VCU just couldn’t let the ball fly from deep consistently. When’s the last time you’ve seen VCU attempt only ONE THREE POINTER in the 2nd Half? It’s been a long time.
Props to VCU for sticking to what’s hot inside with Santos-Silva while the three had an off night. No VCU is not turning into a 2 pointers only team; Coach Rhoades made assurance of that post-game. Just one of those cold nights outside and the Rams stayed hot from near the basket.
A New Hunt Has Begun
Starting in the win column is better than the other option. #25 VCU is 1-0 and aware that this new season is just getting underway. After Chapter 1 there is plenty of positives such as alpha Marcus Santos-Silva and the paint presence taking over. VCU looking like an endurance machine sprinting up and down the court lacking discomfort or in need of a breather. Did I also mention that they WON?
Yes, turnovers, lack of 3 Point production, and taking 5 on the Red Flash were concerning to watch. Remember: this is Game Number ONE. VCU knows who they are and what they need to improve on. Chapter 2 is a couple of nights away. Get some rest because VCU is cooking up something oh so sweet.
One More Tweet
VCU returns to action on Friday, November 8th for Homecoming against North Texas. Tip-off goes up at 7 PM inside the Siegel Center on MASN.